Hospitals have been contracting with area businesses for years to provide employee health services like physicals, wellness education and flu clinics.
But since last March, much of their focus has shifted to COVID-19 as companies struggle to stay open while dealing with pandemic safety measures and workers who test positive.
“This is our job, to help businesses manage important health issues,” said Dr. Rachel Brown, medical director of prevention and wellness with Prisma Health’s Business Health Solutions.
“So we moved away from … pre-employment physicals and workmen’s comp,” she said, “to how do you get your folks back to work, how do you manage precautions on the worksite, and what to do if there’s been an exposure.”
Bon Secours St. Francis Health System’s providers, typically registered nurses and nurse practitioners, have also been doing temperature checks and COVID screenings at their contracted businesses, said Denise Diaz, director of business health services.
“We have been contacted by a lot of companies asking for expertise, for guidance if somebody tests positive and how long before they can return to work,” she said. “They ask for additional nursing staff to help with contact tracing. And we even stood up a COVID collection site at one company, too, for mass testing.”
Prisma, for example, is taking phone calls and answering emails daily from employers asking for advice and updates about the virus.
“I’ve done about 30 or 40 consultations since March personally,” said Brown. “Leaders will engage with us, and we give them resources for their employees.”
There’s a web page where employers can find information, she said, and live webinars where they can ask questions of providers. And there are eVisits as well as a Return-to-Work chat box where employees can get their questions answered.
Among things they want to know: Are they are at risk? Should they get a test? How can they manage exposure? And should they quarantine?
“The biggest part has been trying to make sure we tell them what facts are true versus what they’re hearing [elsewhere],” said Krishna Patel, a St. Francis nurse practitioner who works at an on-site clinic for Greenville County.
“It’s super important for us to educate them that it’s important to wear a mask and social distance and about using hand hygiene,” she said. “Because it makes a huge difference.”
As it has across health care in the pandemic, telemedicine has become a popular option in these programs as well, Brown said.
“It definitely has changed,” said Patel, who also answers emails and holds Zoom calls where people can ask questions. “There are more telehealth encounters, so if patients aren’t feeling well or working from home, they are able to see me.”
And the level of interest has been high, she said.
“I’m at the prevention level, and that’s my goal – to prevent them from getting COVID and to keep those around them healthy,” she said. “I always tell them … this is what I would tell my sister or my mom and dad.”
Companies, which represent thousands of employees in the Upstate, also want to know how employees can return to work safely, Diaz said.
“We’ve worked hard to partner with business and industry to make sure they have healthy employees coming to work every day,” she said.
But they may also need to look at their leave policies, Brown said, because if there’s no sick leave, it’s a barrier to people isolating. And employees need to feel safe about coming forward with their concerns.
“It’s not just making sure there is plexiglass in the right place or a temperature check before coming in the door,” she said.